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Famous King's People

Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin

maurice wilkinsMaurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, together with Ray Gosling, Alec Stokes and Herbert Wilson and other colleagues at the MRC Biophysics Research Unit at King's, made crucial contributions to the discovery of DNA's structure in 1953.

Wilkins began using optical spectroscopy to study DNA in the late 1940s. In 1950 he and Gosling obtained the first clearly crystalline X-ray diffraction patterns from DNA fibres. Alec Stokes suggested that the patterns indicated that DNA was helical in structure.

The discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953 revealed the physical and chemical basis of how characteristics are passed down through the generations and how they are expressed in individual organisms.

Rosalind Franklin and 'Photo 51'

rosalind franklinRosalind Franklin came to King's in early 1951; in May 1952 together with Ray Gosling she took the famous 'Photo 51' and made important studies of the DNA molecule. 

Francis Crick and James Watson of Cambridge University saw ’Photo 51’, and some of Franklin's data in her annual report to the MRC, and with their own deductions built the first correct model of the DNA molecule. Their famous paper in Nature (April 1953) was accompanied by a paper by Wilkins, Stokes and Wilson and another by Franklin and Gosling.

This was the beginning of a further seven years of work for Maurice Wilkins and his colleagues to check and verify Crick and Watson's hypothetical model. It was for this and his original X-ray diffraction studies that Wilkins was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Crick and Watson in 1962.

 Rosalind Franklin died of cancer at the age of 37 in 1958.

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